In late November 2016, two construction workers were killed when a beam fell out of its crane harness. The worker who was standing on the beam fell to his death, while the crane operator was crushed by the beam itself. The worker standing on the beam worked for CRV Precast, and this was the second fatal accident for that company in Queens in the last two years.
CRV Precast is known as a repeat offender for serious construction violations within NYC, but the distressing thing about those accidents is that some of them don’t wind up on the New York City Department of Buildings’ (DOB) official construction death toll. This issue highlights a practice by the DOB that many construction companies feel misrepresents the real issues in the NYC construction industry.
Is The DOB Keeping Track Or Is OSHA?
The NYC Department of Buildings claims that it does not have to keep track of all construction accidents because OSHA does all of the investigations and hands out contractor fines. But some union representatives think that there may be more to what is going on than simple administrative oversight.
According to union representatives, many of the construction deaths in NYC come from non-union shops. The city’s affordable housing programs are not obligated to utilize union labor, and union representatives feel that not counting all of the deaths in a given year allows the city to justify using non-union labor to keep costs down.
Another issue union representatives have with the DOB’s policy of not counting every accident is that the DOB has the resources to fully investigate every accident but it refuses to do so. While OSHA differentiates between union and non-union job sites when investigating accidents, the DOB does not. This is causing union leaders to suggest that worker safety is being compromised in order to keep affordable housing costs down.
Separation Of Duties Between The Two Departments
In 2015, OSHA counted 17 total construction deaths in NYC while the DOB only counted 11. The DOB insists that it
only tracks construction accidents that directly violate the city’s construction codes. In most cases, the DOB will only look into a construction death that involved the public or had the potential to harm the public. All of the other construction accident investigations are left up to OSHA.
Worker Safety Should Be A Priority
Construction experts maintain that the DOB is not doing all it can for worker safety when it refuses to look into every construction death. The situations surrounding each death give the DOB a chance to see what policies need to be changed to make workers safer. When the DOB refuses to investigate certain types of accidents, it does not have the information it needs to create new policies meant to keep workers safe.
The DOB has approximately 100 inspectors available to follow up on accident cases and investigate construction deaths. OSHA has only 80 inspectors available for the entire state of New York. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio insists that the situation is a simple delegation of labor based on clearly written responsibilities. But construction industry experts in NYC wonder if maybe the city is not doing enough to keep workers safe.
Who Is Going To Investigate The Queens Contractor Incident
CRV Precast is facing another serious investigation regarding the death of one of its workers on its job site. Construction experts contend that the Department of Buildings should be active in the investigation to gather data needed to develop more comprehensive worker safety policies. However, the Department of Buildings insists that the accident is the sole domain of OSHA, and the DOB does not need to get involved.
The division of duties between OSHA and the DOB is also causing conflicting results. One of the accidents that killed a pedestrian in 2015 was investigated by the DOB but not OSHA and did not show up in OSHA’s final accident count. Many construction industry experts in NYC insist that the DOB and OSHA need to close this information gap if there is to be any progress in making NYC construction sites safer places for everyone.